IS group says it killed more than 35 ‘Christians’ in Congo
The Islamic State group has issued a statement claiming responsibility for killing more than 35 people and wounding dozens in eastern Congo. In the statement, posted Friday by Aamaq, the militants' news agency, it said it killed “Christians” with guns and knives and destroyed their property in Mukondi village in North Kivu province. It also published a photo of the houses on fire. The announcement comes after local authorities confirmed that at least 45 people were killed last week in several attacks on different villages by rebels from the Allied Democratic Forces, a militia with links to IS. Also Read: Bomb kills 1, wounds 5 at press award event in Afghanistan Conflict has been simmering in eastern Congo for decades as more than 120 armed groups fight for power, influence and resources, and some to protect their communities. The ADF has been largely active in North Kivu province but has recently extended its operations into neighboring Ituri province and to areas near the regional capital, Goma. Efforts to stem the violence against ADF have yielded little. A nearly year-long joint operation by Uganda and Congo’s armies did not achieve the expected results of defeating or substantially weakening the group, said a report in December by a panel of U.N. experts. The ADF rebels are accused by the U.N. and rights groups of maiming, raping and abducting civilians, including children. Earlier this month the United States offered a reward of up to $5 million for information that could lead to the capture of the group’s leader, Seka Musa Baluku. On Thursday, AP reporters saw bodies lowered into a mass grave in Mukondi. Community members shoveled dirt over the bodies against a backdrop of destroyed houses and said the government wasn't doing enough to protect them. “As you see in Mukondi, it is always the same. ADF, which is always ill-intentioned against the Congolese," said Col. Charles Ehuta Omeonga, military administrator for Beni region. “We lost many of our brothers,” he said. The United Nations peacekeeping mission in Congo has condemned the killings and is urging Congo’s authorities to investigate and bring those responsible to justice.
Less than half of UK population Christian; rapid growth for Muslims: Census
Fewer than half the people in England and Wales consider themselves Christian, according to the most recent census — the first time the country's official religion has been followed by a minority of the population. Britain has become less religious — and less white — in the decade since the last census, figures from the 2021 census released Tuesday by the Office for National Statistics revealed. Read more: Europe’s inflation likely hasn’t peaked, says central bank chief Lagarde Some 46.2% of the population of England and Wales described themselves as Christian on the day of the 2021 census, down from 59.3% a decade earlier. The Muslim population grew from 4.9% to 6.5% of the population, while 1.7% identified as Hindu, up from 1.5%. More than 1 in 3 people — 37% — said they had no religion, up from 25% in 2011. The other parts of the U.K., Scotland and Northern Ireland, report their census results separately. Secularism campaigners said the shift should trigger a rethink of the way religion is entrenched in British society. The U.K. has state-funded Church of England schools, Anglican bishops sit in Parliament’s upper chamber, and the monarch is “defender of the faith” and supreme governor of the church. Andrew Copson, chief executive of the charity Humanists U.K., said “the dramatic growth of the non-religious” had made the U.K. “almost certainly one of the least religious countries on Earth.” “One of the most striking things about these results is how at odds the population is from the state itself,” he said. “No state in Europe has such a religious set-up as we do in terms of law and public policy, while at the same time having such a non-religious population.” Read more: Riots in Belgium, Netherlands after Morocco win at World Cup Archbishop of York Stephen Cottrell, one of the most senior clerics in the Church of England, said the data was “not a great surprise,” but was a challenge to Christians to work harder to promote their faith. “We have left behind the era when many people almost automatically identified as Christian, but other surveys consistently show how the same people still seek spiritual truth and wisdom and a set of values to live by,” he said. Almost 82% of people in England and Wales identified as white in the census, down from 86% in 2011. Some 9% said they were Asian, 4% Black and 3% from “mixed or multiple” ethnic backgrounds, while 2% identified with another ethnic group.
Jerusalem tension triggers Gaza-Israel fire exchange
Tensions in Jerusalem sparked the worst round of cross-border violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip in months on Saturday, with Palestinian militants firing at least 30 rockets and Israel striking back at targets operated by Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Skirmishes have spiked in recent days in Jerusalem, which has long been a flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and is home to holy sites sacred to Jews, Christians and Muslims. Residents braced for possible further unrest as police stepped up security and the U.S. Embassy appealed for calm. On Friday, Israeli police said 44 people were arrested and 20 officers were wounded in a night of chaos in Jerusalem, where security forces separately clashed with Palestinians angry about Ramadan restrictions and Jewish extremists who held an anti-Arab march nearby. The incidents in Jerusalem triggered a flare-up in Gaza. Hamas’ armed wing warned Israel “not to test” its patience and militants in the Palestinian enclave started firing rockets into southern Israel late Friday and continued through Saturday morning. The Israeli military said its aircraft and tanks struck rocket launchers and unspecified underground infrastructure for Hamas. The militant group did not claim responsibility for the rocket attacks, but a small military formation affiliated with the leftist Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine said it fired some of the missiles. Sirens warning of incoming rockets from Gaza kept blaring in southern Israel. Air defenses intercepted some of the rockets. There were no reports of injuries on either side. At dawn, hundreds of people in Gaza challenged nightly curfews imposed by Hamas to curb the coronavirus outbreak and took to the streets in an act of solidarity with fellow Palestinians in Jerusalem, burning tires. There were concerns the violence could reignite following Friday noon prayers at a major holy site in Jerusalem, but thousands of worshippers dispersed peacefully after Muslim religious leaders called for restraint. Also read: Palestinians torn as Israel seeks Gulf tourists in Jerusalem But in the evening, dozens of Palestinians marched toward an entrance to the walled Old City of Jerusalem and clashed with Israeli police, which said the protesters had thrown stones and other items at officers. Six Palestinians were injured with two hospitalized. Palestinians have clashed with Israeli police on a nightly basis since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The tensions began when police placed barricades outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate, where Muslims traditionally gather to enjoy the evening after the daytime fast. The clashes intensified Thursday evening when hundreds of Palestinians hurled stones and bottles at police, who fired a water cannon and stun grenades to disperse them. Dozens of Palestinians were wounded in the melee. At the same time, a far-right Jewish group known as Lahava led a march of hundreds of protesters chanting “Arabs get out!” toward the Damascus Gate. The show of force came in response to videos circulated on TikTok showing Palestinians slapping religious Jews at random. Other videos made in response to them appear to show Jews assaulting Arabs. After keeping them a few hundred yards away from Damascus Gate, Police used water cannon, stun grenades and mounted police to push far-right protesters back toward mostly Jewish west Jerusalem. The Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. Its fate has been one of the most divisive issues in the peace process, which ground to a halt more than a decade ago. Early Saturday, Jordan strongly condemned “the racist attacks on Palestinians.” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi tweeted: “As the occupying power under international law, Israel is responsible for stopping these attacks & for the dangerous consequences of failing to do so.” The U.S. Embassy said it was “deeply concerned” about the violence in recent days. “We hope all responsible voices will promote an end to incitement, a return to calm, and respect for the safety and dignity of everyone in Jerusalem,” it said in a statement. Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended weekly prayers at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem’s Old City on Friday. The site is the third holiest in Islam and the holiest for Jews, who refer to it as the Temple Mount. Also read Israel advances plans in sensitive east Jerusalem settlement Sheikh Muhammad Hussein, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem, condemned the “police and settlers’ attack on Palestinians in Jerusalem” in his sermon. But he called on worshippers to remain calm and not to give the other side an excuse to storm the compound. They dispersed peacefully after prayers and there were no immediate reports of unrest. The sprawling hilltop compound has seen clashes on a number of occasions over the years and was the epicenter of the 2000 Palestinian intifada, or uprising. Hamas meanwhile staged demonstrations across Gaza after Friday prayers, reiterating its support for armed struggle. “After a long series of protests and demonstrations, we have reached the conclusion that without weapons, we cannot liberate our land, protect our holy sites, bringing back our people to their land or maintain our dignity,” senior Hamas official Mahmoud Zahar said.
Pope arrives in Iraq to rally Christians despite pandemic
Pope Francis arrived in Iraq on Friday to urge the country’s dwindling number of Christians to stay put and help rebuild the country after years of war and persecution, brushing aside the coronavirus pandemic and security concerns to make his first-ever papal visit.
Amid pandemic, Christians celebrate an Easter like no other
Christians celebrated Easter Sunday isolated in their homes by the coronavirus while pastors preached the faith's joyous news of Christ's resurrection to empty pews. St. Peter's Square was barricaded to keep out crowds, while one Florida church drew a large turnout for a drive-in service in a parking lot.
Christians want Belgian opera's naked Joan of Arc banned
, Nov 1 (AP/UNB) — A Christian association is trying to prevent Brussels opera house La Monnaie from staging a production of Arthur Honegger's oratorio "Jeanne d'Arc au bûcher," or "Joan of Arc at the Stake," in which the heroine appears dressed in men's clothes and, at one point, naked.